Bile Duct Stones: All You Need To Know

When the gallstones formed in the gall bladder move out and enter the bile duct and get wedged in the duct because of their size or position, they are called bile duct stones.

Gall stones are also called cholesterol stones and are made of the cholesterol present in the body.

They are of a light colour and 80% of the gall stones that form in the body are cholesterol stones. Sometimes stones are formed in the bile duct too and are the size of a grain. The gall bladder can develop many stones at a time. Sometimes only one large stone may be formed, on other occasions several thousand stones of small size may develop.

What are the causes for the formation of bile duct stones?

Various studies and research conducted by medical science show that gallstones can develop because of the weight of the body and its inherent chemistry. They can also be caused by the movement of the gall bladder and the particular diet and lifestyle that a person follows.


Gallstones in some persons act like “Silent Stones”, which means that the person does not experience any signs of discomfort and the presence of the stones in the body is silent. The general symptoms of gallstones include:

  • Sudden severe pain, which may last for just a few minutes or may even stretch for hours
  • Pain at the back of the breast bone or near the upper part of the abdomen
  • Pain in between the shoulder blades
  • Experiencing sudden chills followed by fever
  • Jaundice
  • Discomfort and nausea, followed by vomiting

Diagnosis and treatment

When you experience such abdominal pain and discomfort, immediately consult your general physician. The diagnosis for gallstones involves an abdominal x-ray followed by a computerized axial tomography (CT) scan or an ultrasound of the abdomen.

An ultrasound is the most commonly conducted diagnostic examination for gallstones. This process makes use of sound waves, which creates an image of the organ for the doctor to examine. If there are gallstones present in the abdomen then the sound waves will indicate their location by bouncing off the stones.

Various advantages of ultrasound are that this technique is non-invasive and painless. Moreover, it does not require the use of radiation therapy.

To determine the location of very small gallstones various tests like MRCP, endoscopic ultrasound and ERCP are done.


Bile duct stones can obstruct the passage of the bile duct, leading to a blockage in the duct, the obstruction in the movement of the bile can cause Cholangitis that is jaundice with infection. It can also lead to severe pancreatitis.

The removal of the stones can be done through open cholecystectomy & laparoscopic cholecystectomy. This is a more complicated process and requires expert supervision.

Open cholecystectomy v/s laparoscopic cholecystectomy

Open cholecystectomy is a method in which the surgeon makes a large incision in the upper part of the abdomen and then proceeds to remove the stones. This method is usually adopted for patients who have had an abdominal surgery already.

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy uses scopes to remove the stones and the incisions made are also much smaller. This procedure allows the patient to recover faster. In some cases of Laparoscopic cholecystectomy surgery, it may so happen that the surgeon starts with this procedure but due to complications has to switch to open cholecystectomy.

Both these procedure are done under the influence of general anaesthesia.

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